By Steven T. Jones
Last night's San Francisco Tomorrow 37th annual dinner on Fisherman's Wharf offered a who's who list of environmentally engaged political leaders and activists -- a testament to the important role this venerable organization has played in creating the San Francisco of today (full disclosure: my sweetie, Alix Rosenthal, recently joined the SFT board).
Supervisors Chris Daly, Aaron Peskin, and Tom Ammiano all showed up, as did Sen. Carole Migden, Assessor Phil Ting, and Democratic Party stalwart Jane Morrison. Activists being honored by the group were filmmaker Judy Irving (who made "Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" and other films focus on SF urban environment), recycling scold and innovator Denise D'Anne, and Amy Meyer and Dr. Edgar Wayburn, who have worked for more than 30 years to create the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Yet to me, the most interesting award and resulting speeches were for the special award that Ammiano received for creating a universal health care program for the city, in the process braving aggressive attacks by downtown and finally winning over Mayor Gavin Newsom.
Appropriately, Ammiano was introduced by Health Director Mitch Katz, who extolled the importance of employer-provided health insurance and said the only question was whether political leaders would insist on it. "Supervisor Tom Ammiano, you are a leader who has made a solution happen and we're all very grateful," Katz said. Left unsaid was the role Ammiano played in winning over Katz's boss, Newsom, something that Ammiano spoke of only in veiled ways.
"It was an issue that needed to be addressed and that took teamwork," Ammiano said after an intro in which he described teamwork as not exactly his strong suit growing up. Ammiano mentioned the labor and environmental movements as key partners. It was a contentious and laborious process for Ammiano's legislation to finally come to fruition, something that took some compromises and lots of patience. But Ammiano focused on what he said was former senator John Burton's good advice: "Just get it on the fucking books."
To get there, Ammiano had to first win over Katz, then pressure Newsom to get on board (after he had stayed on the sidelines for months as his downtown allies savaged Ammiano). "I cannot underscore the role of Dr. Katz...and we drew in the mayor," Ammiano said.
Now that Golden Gate Restaurant Association is suing the city to kill the mandate for businesses to provide their employees with health insurance, Ammiano said there was just one important step left: "We kick the people's asses who are daring to sue us."
P.S. There was a close tie for the best lines of the night, both involving the matriarch of SFT, Jane Morrison. As Peskin was introducing Irving for her "Unsung Hero" award, he remembered when he won the same award years ago and Morrison introduced him as an "unhung zero." For her part, Migden said of the ever-active Morrison, "We all want to get injected with what she has flowing through her blood naturally."